In Town Talk our matchday programme we have looked back at the 1978/79 season, here is Bob Davis match report from the final game of the season at home to Exeter City
Today is the final match of the season, but let me take you back 40 years to one of the most glorious achievements in Shrewsbury Town’s 70 or so years in the Football League. The date: 17th May 1979. The venue: Gay Meadow. The occasion: a clash with Exeter City to determine the champions of the old League Three.
For some reason which I can’t explain, the match was on a Thursday and 14,441 fans crammed the terraces of the old ground hoping for a miracle to take Shrewsbury into League Two – the equivalent today of the Championship – and their favourites delivered in some style.
The Shrews went into the most important game of the whole campaign leading Watford and Swansea City by the slenderest of margins of just one point.
Nothing less than victory for Town would suffice, therefore, as the Bees and Swans weren’t expected to falter, and neither did they as Watford trounced Hull City 4-0 and Swansea eased home 2-1 against Chesterfield.
But Shrewsbury didn’t disappoint their ecstatic fans as they came through on the rails with three wins and a draw in their previous four games in May and they crowned a fantastic season with a resounding 4-1 victory over Exeter.
It was a win which sparked joyous celebrations as supporters swarmed over the whole ground demanding that player manager Graham Turner – who was out of the side with an ankle injury – and his team put in an appearance to share the moment with the excited fans.
When the players stepped into the directors’ box each and every one of them was acclaimed a hero by the adoring fans. The myth, circulated by the doubting Thomases for some inexplicable reason, that the club didn’t want promotion, had well and truly been laid to rest.
From my seat in the Press Box, it prompted an overwhelming sense of pride as we all soaked up the atmosphere and reflected not only on a fabulous finale to the season but also on the remarkable achievements throughout the whole campaign.
My report in the Shropshire Star, I hope, painted the picture as I wrote: “Not only are they up, they are the champions of Division Three, worthy of the title for the resolution they have displayed all season and the determination they have demonstrated whenever there has been the merest sign they might falter.
“It was a memorable finale to a fantastic season but to those dedicated and delighted followers, hoarse from repeated choruses of “Come on you Blues”, there was never any question that this was to be the night of all nights at Gay Meadow.”
I added that, in their minds, Shrewsbury were heirs to the Third Division throne, and it took only two minutes for Paul Maguire to float over a corner for skipper Jake King, at the far post, to duck low and head home to set them on their way against Exeter.
It was just the fillip town needed, but their joy was short-lived as three minutes later John Delve equalised for the visitors to pose the question as to whether Exeter might just spoil the party.
It was, though, as if Shrewsbury had suffered a sense of injustice in finding themselves level but they kept their composure and that man King, a tremendous inspiration to his side, met with yet another Maguire corner to restore the lead with a powerful header.
Just eight minutes were on the clock but there was more drama to come on the half hour when Maguire was brought down as he darted into the penalty area. Referee Kevin McNally waved away Town claims for a penalty but then had the courage to reverse his decision when a linesman indicated a foul. Ian Atkins made no mistake from the spot.
David Tong put the icing on the cake 12 minutes from time when he rifled home number four from just inside the penalty area.
Amid the euphoric scenes the players were emotional about their achievements, but it was perhaps Maguire who summed up things when he declared: “I told you back in September we would be promoted. I think the lads deserve everything they have worked for. It has been a total team effort throughout the season.
“You cannot single out anyone. Everyone has given 100 per cent. A lot of people doubted we could do it but we have never had any doubts. Now I just want to thank the loyal supporters.”
Much praise, too, was heaped on the late Tim Yates, who was celebrating 28 years as a director of the club and 12 years as chairman. He confessed to being “over the moon” about the team’s elevation, before adding “It is the greatest night of my football life. The team have earned it. They have worked very hard all season.”
Of Turner’s success after only a few months as manager, Mr Yates said “He has done tremendously well. I am pleased for him and pleased for everybody.”
Turner, jubilantly puffing on a cigar but claiming he didn’t know what to do with it because he didn’t smoke, said he just felt a sense of relief.
But perhaps the most touching thing about the celebrations was that they were interrupted by a telephone call from Watford’s superstar chairman, Elton John, to Mr Yates.
As the champagne corks popped and the chants of the fans filled the night air, he called to congratulate Shrewsbury on gaining promotion, despite the disappointment of his own team missing out by just one point on being champions.
“That is the nicest thing that has happened to me. It is tremendous,” said Mr Yates.
“That is what football is all about and I hope I would do the same in his situation.”
I’m sure he would have done precisely that but this was a night which belonged to Shrewsbury Town as they embarked on a 10-year spell in the second tier of English football.
And that was some achievement for a small town club like Town!